- President Trump has signed into law the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act, according to multiple sources. The law will extend the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to access third-party care when experiencing extraordinary barriers to VA care.
The Veterans Choice Program was slated to expire on August 7, 2017. The new law strikes that expiration date but does not offer a new expiration date for program funding. Per an announcement from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the new law will “allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to access all of the funding initially appropriated for the program until it is fully expended,” but does not offer an end date.
The law will allow the VA to be the primary payer for the Veterans Choice Program, reducing veteran out-of-pocket costs. Prior to this most recent law, the VA was the secondary payer for “care relating to non-service-connected disabilities and recovery of costs for certain care under Choice Program,” the bill’s full text reads.
The law also contains language that will streamline health data exchange between the VA and third-party providers participating in the Veterans Choice Program.
McCain, who is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said that extending the Veterans Choice Program will help remedy some of the scheduling issues the VA has experienced in recent years.
“In the wake of the terrible scandal in care at the Phoenix VA and VA hospitals around the country, we made a promise that our veterans would never again be forced to face unacceptable wait-times for appointments, or drive unreasonable distances, to get the care they need,” McCain said in a statement. “This legislation ensures we keep that promise as we continue the hard work of fully reforming the VA and enhancing health care for all veterans.”
The VA developed the Veterans Choice Program in 2014 to mitigate several agency-wide appointment wait time issues. The Program allows veterans experiencing wait times longer than 30 days or facing extreme geographic and travel barriers to access treatment at non-VA facilities.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives passed the bill with overwhelming majorities - in the Senate the vote was unanimous - on April 3 and April 5, respectively.
The VA has also recently forged new partnerships to more effectively drive patient care access through the Veterans Choice Program.
The VA has announced a partnership with CVS MinuteClinic in Arizona. The Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS) will now be able to refer patients to MinuteClinic for the treatment of minor health issues. PVAHCS clinicians will do this via the Veterans Choice Program.
The partnership will serve Phoenix’s nearly 120,000 veterans, allowing them to receive minor treatment at the 24 MinuteClinics in the area.
"Our number one priority is getting Veterans access to care when and where they need it. The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for Veterans in their neighborhoods," Baligh Yehia, MD, the VA Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Community Care, said in a statement.
The partnership, which also includes PVAHCS’ Veterans Choice partner TriWest, will manage the health data exchange necessary for effective care coordination. Nurses at PVAHCS and Arizona-based MinuteClinics will be able to electronically exchange patient information to ensure all clinicians can make informed treatment decisions.
"We are thrilled to have this new partnership for Phoenix area Veterans. Increasing access and availability of care is crucial,” said Maureen McCarthy, MD, PVAHCS Chief of Staff. “In sending Veterans out into the community, however, we are always conscious of providing the best care coordination we can. We are working to leverage technology to share important clinical information and ensure care continuity.”
According to Senator McCain, this partnership will help enhance the VA’s goals for improving veteran access to healthcare.
"This new public-private collaboration between CVS, TriWest and the VA is an important step forward in enhancing choice and flexibility in Veterans' health care," said Senator McCain.
"I've long believed that Veterans in need of routine health care services should not have to wait in line for weeks to get an appointment when they can visit community health centers like MinuteClinic to receive timely and convenient care.”